D.C. Seeks Charters for Special Education
Honawar, Vashali, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Vashali Honawar
The D.C. school board is weighing the creation of charter schools for students with special needs after being stung by a $30 million cost overrun in special education.
"Applications for charter schools that provide special education will be looked at more favorably by the board," said board member Tommy Wells, District 3. The board might approve such charters to open as early as next year, Mr. Wells said.
Court mandates require the District to bus its special-education students to private schools that meet their needs, sometimes as far as Annapolis and
Delaware. As many as 1,830 children were placed in private schools during the 2000-2001 academic year, at an average cost of $36,000 per pupil.
Board members and special-education activists say people often move to the District to take advantage of the requirement, further pushing up costs for the public school system. "Right now, we are paying tuition for a number of children who would never set foot in a D.C. public school," said one board member who wished to remain anonymous.
The District has one charter school that serves students with special needs - the Joz-Arz Academy in Northeast for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students. The school board is hoping that private schools catering to special-education students, such as the Lab School in Northwest, will come forward with charter proposals, Mr. Wells said.
Board members said they are trying to get a handle on reducing special-education costs after D.C. schools overspent their overall budget by $80 million in fiscal 2001, which ended yesterday. The $30 million special-education overrun consisted of $24.6 million in overspending for tuition and $6.1 million in transportation expenses.
Fearing such overruns next year, board members said they needed to explore alternatives, such as charter schools. "They are the only entities with the wherewithal to get started quickly," board member Laura Gardner said.
The D.C. school board is one of the two chartering authorities in the city, the other being the Public Charter School Board. Between them, they have opened 37 charter schools on 42 sites in the District since 1996. Last month, the D.C. school board revoked the charter for one school, New Vistas, after charges of mismanagement. …